The title of todays blog is not about John Fews rumbling tummy, it's about the Red Deer at Richmond Park (though Johns rumbles could sometimes be heard above the deers bellows).
At 7am this morning John and I were parked up and out over looking a dip with the mist around us and no sound except the huge bellows from almost invisible Red Deer.
It was somewhat surreal being able to spot one huge stag and then hearing another one quite close by, then another one and then more bellowing from the depths of the mist on the other side of the dell, all the while trying to adjust your eyesight to the swirling mist.
As the mist finally started to lift and the sun broke through, the light made for some interesting photography.
The last time I came to Richmond Park over three years ago, I foolishly went alone and promptly fell awkwardly off an anthill, had to drag myself to a log, call an ambulance and then spent the next seven weeks on crutches with damaged knee tendons and an impact bruise that stretched from my ankle all the way up my shin bone. This time I was taking no chances and figured if I fell again at least John would pick me up after laughing his head off.
As the mist cleared and all became visible we realised there were at least seven other photographers watching the action from the other side of the dip. It also became clear that all the stags around us were focused on one huge dominant male who had already acquired a small harem of four hinds.
This is what the autumn Red Deer rut is all about. The stags try to gather, and mate with, as may hinds as they can. The first sign of weakness in a stag and another one will challenge the dominant one and take all of the hinds for his own. Challenges usually involve bellowing, dressing up the antlers with bits of bracken, doing the parallel walk where they march along almost side by side weighing up each others weak spots and then the rut itself where they charge face on to each other with heads bowed low and antlers ready to inflict some serious injury.
Well we watched the stags parade their bracken decorated antlers, we watched a few of them do the parallel walk and, of course, we heard them bellowing, but not one rut did we see. Johns theory is that it is unseasonably warm, which made sense later in the day when we went back to see the holding champion had gathered another ten hinds to his harem but was surrounded all round by seven other stags all laying down and snoozing in the afternoon sun. We even saw the champion mate with some of his hinds, but the other stags, although they could see and sense what was going on, continued to lazily watch on.
So it will be a late rut this year, if there's one at all. Johns been down to the park several times over the last few weeks and only witnessed one half hearted rut attempt, and other photographers we spoke to today reported the same.
So as there was no rut to photograph, and the morning turned out to be clear, dry and sunny, I spent most of my time taking long distance photos, usually hiding behind John or a tree. I'm not saying I'm scared of the deer, more like wary. I'm sure any female would say the same if surrounded by testerone pumped males with big antlers !
Apart from the resident large numbers of Jackdaws, Crows, Starlings and marmite Parakeets (you either love them or you hate them) the only other numerous bird were the Stonechats. Where there was a patch of bracken, there was a Stonechat or two.
It was a beautiful morning marred only by one light rain shower.
John, as always, provided a large flask of coffee as well as a much appreciated lift to and from Hounslow bus garage (thanks mate x) and my only disappointment of the day was the lack of sightings of Fallow Deer, but another visit will soon rectify that.
So it may have been a day of the 'non-rut' but it was a great day out anyway.